By Jena Rhydderch

Everything is an equation.

Post a job + prescreen candidates + interview candidates + reference checks = You are Hired.

Bases are covered, i’s are dotted, t’s are crossed, and we have done our due diligence. So, if we apply the math, that must mean:

Great candidate + Great Interview + Great Reference = Great Employee.

But in the real world, the math does not always add up. The majority of hiring managers will tell you they have not once received a negative reference for a candidate they are hopeful to hire. Even more unbelievably, most of us have not or will not give a negative reference for someone that performed poorly in their role. No one wants to stand in the way of someone getting a job, for so many reasons – empathy, liability, guilt, fear, apathy and so on. So, what is in a reference that would ever change the mind of a hopeful leader?

Alternately, what if you are a candidate looking for a review of a potential employer? Are you going to get the candor and pragmatism required to make such a critical decision? Even in the most abusive, toxic and career limiting corporate cultures, employees are still keen to refer a friend or acquaintance as a potential candidate. It is human nature to want to help and to work with people you know, like and trust, especially if it is a high unemployment economy. Also, in a notably unhealthy workplace, employees may be hesitant to share negative feedback for fear of any kind of retaliation or reprisal.

Ultimately, there is no simple mathematical equation but rather calculated decision making.

Ask yourself, what’s in a reference check for you?   Are you:

  • Getting additional Information such as cultural fit, past performance, rehirability?
  • Performing your due diligence?
  • Conducting employment/education verification?
  • Attempting to disqualify candidate(s)?
  • Using it as a recruiting tool?

Knowing what you are looking for will help you ask the right questions and will get what you need. Of course, this comes with the caveat that decisions need to take into account how the other people in the situation will respond.

Intelligent candidates won’t give references that will say anything bad about them. Intelligent leaders know this. Here are four simple considerations when it comes to reference checks:

  • Don’t do it just to check a box, make it meaningful and don’t waste the referee’s time.
  • Add a reference check as a condition to an offer as opposed to a determining factor of an offer.
  • Be strategic, either focus on facts or provide specific and relevant open-ended questions.
  • Identify elements of the candidate throughout the interview process that you can focus on in a reference check, particularly any red flags.
  • Prepare questions in advance, but try not to stay too close to the script. An easy, natural conversation will offer a nice balance.
  • Emphasize the importance of the reference in the hiring process and request a minimum of 15-30 minutes to complete the reference. If the referee is not available, ensure you book a follow up time and date before you end your call. A referee’s enthusiasm and willingness to provide a reference is often indicative of the candidate’s performance and/or relationships.
  • Start the reference by providing the referee the background and details of the role, so that they feel equipped to answer whether the candidate is suited to the position.
  • Compare the consistency of the resume, interview and reference checks, they should all align in facts and feeling.
  • If you are not interested in completing references for potential employees, consider an employment or education check through a third-party service i.e., Triton, Sterling BackCheck, HirePerformance and many others.

Whether conducting a reference or not, finding the right candidate, or career, is about trusting your professional instincts, staying relevant to the role and aligning with your core values. A thoughtful process will always increase your chances of finding the best fit.